Increasing impact in key tributaries

In the tributaries that feed the Willamette, local nonprofits known as watershed councils had been bringing communities together since the late 1990s to find voluntary solutions to river health challenges.

These organizations started out as volunteer alliances of landowners, businesses, natural resource agencies and community members, and had grown into small, staffed organizations working to restore habitat along Willamette tributaries with limited resources. With additional capacity, these groups had enormous potential to do more.

So, WRI took an opportunity to invest in a system that worked.

Middle Fork Willamette Watershed Council Director Sarah Dyrdahl stands in Staley Creek's newly-opened floodplain.

WRI partnered with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF) to bring its innovative model watershed program to the Willamette tributaries. We provided seven watershed councils with flexible funding and asked them to craft 10-year plans that would target restoration in ecologically important geographic areas. This funding increased their staff capacity, allowing them to spend more time building relationships with public and private landowners to cultivate new projects. Meanwhile, BEF provided support and expertise to help the councils achieve even more.

Since then, restoration progress has skyrocketed from 37 active projects in 2010 to 519 active projects in 2018. These projects have begun to form connected habitat corridors in important river reaches, amplifying the benefits for fish and wildlife.